Monday, May 29, 2006

The Passing of Alex Toth - Part 1

Alex Toth has died.

I guess like all things, it was inevitable. Still, there seemed to be so much life left in the man, his thoughts so sharp, his opinions so strong, that it looked like immortality might actually be in the cards.

In some ways it’s odd that such a giant in the comic book field, is best known by the general public much more for his contribution to the animation world. Today’s ‘Adult Swim’ crowd might not even realize that the likes of Space Ghost and Harvey Birdman were created by one of the best damned artists to work in the funnybook business.

Toth has always been seen as the ‘Cartoonist’s Cartoonist’. He is well respected within the creator community and has a very strong fan base. All of this for a man who bounced around from project to project, and company to company – never really having a definitive character, title or even genre for that matter.

I really don’t know all that much about the technical aspects of putting a comic book story together. My eyes tend to glaze over a bit when people get into a deep conversation about inking with a brush or spotting blacks. Deep down I really just prefer to rely on my immediate emotional response to the artwork. Perhaps more than any other artist, Alex Toth felt that there was a right way and a wrong way to tell a comic book story. He looked to the likes of Noel Sickles and Milt Caniff for inspiration. Early in his career, Toth was mentored by Sheldon Mayer, who encouraged him to master all aspects of comic book storytelling. Toth always felt that the job of the artist was to tell the story, and that anything else (such as what he called the ‘Kubert money-shot’) simply muddied the waters.

People will often look at a piece of Toth art, and talk about how it is brilliant because of the fact that he decided to leave out unnecessary details. I prefer to say that he took the time to contemplate precisely what needed to go into the page, and used only those elements. His use of silhouettes, his sound effects, the cut-off close-ups: all of these things gave a certain quite dynamism to the page and enabled him to catch the reader’s eye without relying on the double page splash. Simply put, Toth had his own way of telling a story and, more often than not, it was the right way.

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